The legislation includes stimulus checks of $1,400 for individuals making up to $75,000 and $2,800 for couples making up to $150,000, plus $1,400 for each dependent. Along with December’s $600 payments, that fulfilled the Democrats’ promise of providing $2,000 to most Americans still trying to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.
Those payments would phase out for individuals earning from $75,000 to $100,000 and for couples earning from $150,000 to $200,000.
The bill passed almost entirely along party lines, 219-212. All but one Democrat voted yes and every Republican voted no. All 10 New Jersey House Democrats voted yes, and the state’s two Republicans voted no.
It now goes to the U.S. Senate, where it needs only 50 senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, under a parliamentary process known as reconciliation. Biden has promised to sign the bill.
“The American Rescue Plan would help millions of people who are struggling in every community in our nation as a result of the pandemic,” Rep. Albio Sires, D-8th Dist., a member of the House Budget Committee, said during debate on the bill.
“It sends direct aid to those who need it most, boosts vaccination efforts, provides lifelines for small businesses, helps kids get back to school safety, and much more.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., objected to the legislation in a floor speech, saying it did not prevent taxpayer financing of abortions.
“Unborn babies,” Smith said, “need the president of the U.S. and members of Congress to be their friend and advocate, not their adversary.”
Lawmakers of both parties came together last year to enact the $2 trillion CARES Act in March with $1,200 payments, $484 billion in April for small businesses and health care providers, and $900 billion in December with $600 checks.
But every House GOP member but one opposed a $3 trillion stimulus bill in May and all voted no on a $2 trillion proposal in September, both of which passed the chamber but weren’t considered by the then-Senate Republican majority.
This time, Republicans complained that the legislation would increase the federal deficit by $1.9 trillion just four years after they approved a tax law that grew the deficit by the same amount, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of both bills’ 10-year impact.
Congress plans to pass a final bill by March 14, the day the current extended federal unemployment insurance benefits end. The legislation extends the benefits to late August and provides an extra $400 a week to claimants, up from the current $300.
The House bill includes $350 billion in long-sought federal aid to states and localities to help cover added expenses and decreased revenues due to the pandemic. According to an updated estimate from the House Oversight Committee, New Jersey and its municipalities would receive an estimated $10 billion, with $6.5 billion going to the state and $3.5 billion to local governments.
“I rise in strong support of the bill and of the 1.4 million first responders, teachers, transit workers, sanitation workers and other public servants already laid off from state and local governments across this nation,” said Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “We must act before more people lose their jobs and more lifesaving programs are cut.”
While Texas would be the second-biggest recipient of federal assistance, one of its Republican representatives, Jodey Arrington, insisted the funding was a “windfall to states who were mismanaged and broke before COVID.”
There also would be $130 billion to help schools reopen, $25 billion to help restaurants, $1.5 billion for Amtrak, and $28 billion for public transportation systems such as NJ Transit, where ridership and revenue are down.
The bill would provide money to distribute and administer the vaccines, to convince people to be vaccinated to test and trace Americans for the virus, and to increase health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
“President Biden has set forth a national plan to crush the virus,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist., on the House floor. “With this bill, Congress is providing the president with the resources and the tools to implement a national plan that was sorely lacking under President Trump.”
The legislation also would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, matching New Jersey’s. But unlike the state, the federal provision would require tipped workers such as restaurant workers and bartenders to be paid $15 an hour, not including gratuities.
But Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that the wage increase could not be included in the Senate version of the legislation under reconciliation, leaving Democrats to find an alternative that would pass muster.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden still supported the $15 an hour minimum wage and wanted to see it enacted.
“I will tell you that we are committed to finding the best path forward to increasing the minimum wage, and that will require a number of conversations with leaders in Congress and members who are committed to this issue moving forward,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said they would try to get the wage hike into the stimulus bill some other way, perhaps through tax incentives and penalties.
“We couldn’t get in the front door or the back door, so we’ll try to go in through the window,” Wyden said.
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